James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines earlier this year when he took his children's "participation" trophies away and returned them. Some decried this as mean-spirited. Others celebrated the move as something that many parents should be doing.
Here's Harrison's Instagram explaining why the trophies would be returned (and were according to later reports.)
A photo posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on
Perhaps that is the genesis for this trending commercial for Kia.
Since we now have a generation that has been rewarded with trophies that are unearned (and likely collecting dust in their rooms on top of shelves) we must address how this impacts faith development and the understanding of eternity. For Boomers or Gen Xers to blame Millennials for their apparent desire to be gifted a trophy for just showing up is short-sighted. I mean, who started giving out the trophies any way?
A participant in a seminar I led told me about his experience with another parent whose child was on the same youth soccer team: "After our team was beaten soundly in a game, the other child's mother said we should make a 'parent bridge' for the players to run through as they come off the field to get their treats. Mostly joking, I said that as badly as the boys had played, we should just turn our backs and let them get their own treats. The mother was appalled. I asked her, when her son is thirty years old, still living at home, and unable to find a job, if she and her husband will make a bridge, cheer, and give him a juice box for trying his best? I don' think she thought I was funny."
When it comes to eternity, it is unfortunate that many (of all generations) will find themselves standing before Christ, expecting to be ushered into heaven, only to be told "I don't know you?"
That's not just some mythical fairy-tale story. For those of us who believe the Word of God to be true and take this Story seriously, there is a reality regarding the "end of life" trophies. Jesus speaks clearly about this here in Matthew's Gospel account:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
While eternity is a given for all, a home in heaven is only assured for children of God. Children of God are those who have been adopted into His forever family. That adoption comes through receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and surrendering to Him. Only children of the Father get a "trophy." And, it's not a participation trophy. It's a "crown of righteousness" for those who have overcome the world. The great thing about this trophy is that it has already been paid for and secured. You receive it as victors and you can only be a victor if you're "on the team."
This is the moniker attached to adults who “fail to launch” and choose to remain home, stay unmarried, refuse commitments and continue to live as if they were 16 well up into their 30s. Unfortunately, some of this trend can be traced to parents who, though well-intentioned, have lacked the tools to usher their children into adulthood. In most cases, the parents never had a defining moment of adulthood, so creating one becomes the challenge.
Male and female genders are intentionally and strategically created by God for the individual even before conception. Authentic manhood and womanhood are bestowed. God has intended for parents to lead out in this area.
But, what about those who grew up in homes where there was no father or mother speaking truth into their lives?
What about parents who don’t know how to do this?
What about the teenagers who are living far outside the boundaries of morality and godliness?
Many parents just laugh it off and say “Let kids be kids.” While I think kids should be able to have fun and be kids, the frustration is that when adults who have all the trappings of adulthood live as though they are little more than kids in big people clothes.
Rites of passage are essential
Watch this video from our ROPE series. This is one designed for parents of 13 year olds.
It’s one thing to say “You need to create rites of passage for your kids at different stages and ages” and something totally different to say “Let us help you in this journey.”
Parents, grandparents, kids - We’re here to help you in this journey.
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (ESV)
Click the image below to be taken to the Rites of Passage Experiences (ROPE) page.
The family unit has for centuries been comprised of one husband, one wife and in many cases, children. The changing cultural landscape of the twenty-first century seems to be calling that definition into question. Regardless what is deemed acceptable or normal in the world, the Bible affirms the family unit as described above. In addition to the primary members of what has been termed the “nuclear family,” the Scripture teaches and affirms multi-generational and extended family members serving together, ideally for the glory of God and the propagation of the Gospel. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to pass biblical truth and godly teachings on to their children and subsequent generations. This is God’s desire and yet, there are many families who fall short of that standard. Therefore, throughout the years, the local church has sought to shore up the deficiencies in these areas by creating age-graded ministries and programs. These programs and ministries have been proven helpful and valuable. Yet, over time, a dangerous precedent has been set.
Many individuals and families in our culture have become outsourcers. The age of expertise reigns and while past generations understood the need to be proficient in various skills and tasks, that is not the case today. When simple repair work is needed around one’s home, a contracted carpenter is hired. Many, due to lack of time, desire or skill-set, will outsource yard work to professionals. The same is true for simple automobile maintenance and other tasks that not too long ago were accomplished in-house. While a discussion on the value of outsourcing may be interesting, the danger of such exists when people outsource biblical responsibilities. Simply put, the discipling of one’s children should not be outsourced to “professional Christians” or church program directors. The responsibility for these tasks remains with a child’s parents and while the church plays a major role, it cannot supplant the responsibility of those originally entrusted with such.
Much attention is given to helping children develop physically, intellectually, and even socially and emotionally, but parents are not given a lot of help in knowing how to aid in the moral and spiritual development of their children. Due to the lack of easily identifiable steps and handles upon which to hold, many parents have apparently simply prayed that their children would grow in their faith due to the leadership and ministries offered at their local church.
When surveyed, Christian parents have revealed their understanding and belief that they are to play the primary role in the spiritual development of their children. Nevertheless, the same surveys show that these parents have failed in making discipleship a priority within their home. Parents believed they were fulfilling their responsibility for their children’s spiritual formation and development simply by involving them in the programs of the local church. While it would be easy to blame these parents for dropping the ball in this vital area, the church must own its responsibility for fueling a failed model that distances itself from biblical examples. The model most often implemented needs an overhaul, as Dave Kinnaman has noted in a 2006 Barna Research Group report, not because churches have failed in drawing crowds but because the results have been an unsustainable faith for many students beyond high school.
Churches have systematically created and replicated programs that seemingly work. If a nearby or popular church has a program that draws numerous children and teenagers, others will seek to copy it. The scorecard for success is built on uneven ground and attendance numbers and yet, the biblical mandate is not to “Go and make attenders” or even “Go and make church members,” but to “Go and make disciples.” The problem is that in a consumer-driven society, disciple-making is hard to gauge and nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, this is the mandate for the church and must be strategically sought and implemented.
The Bible consistently shows the value of family and the expectation of inter-generational ministry and teaching. The Scripture teaches of God’s plan for the family to be primary in the faith development journey of His people. While this truth is studied and known to be true by many who claim to be followers of Christ, due to the fall and the inherent sin nature, the simple reality is that even well intentioned people do not naturally do what they ought to do. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God does not affirm the delegating the discipleship of one’s child to religious professionals. The responsibility remains within the home, in the context of family. Where there are single-parent households or orphans, the church fills those gaps as the spiritual family.
With numerous family ministry models available, the truth is that no church program has the power to transform lives and make disciples. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can rescue and transform a life. The church must strategically partner with parents and guide them into this truth. This will change the scorecard.
 Anthony, Michael J., Michelle Anthony and Karen E. Jones. “The Family in Foundational Years.” In A Theology for Family Ministries, 22. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2011.
 "Making the Transition to Family-Equipping Ministry." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Jay Strother, 254. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.
 Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother. "The Task Too Significant To Hire Someone Else To Do." In Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, edited by Timothy Paul Jones, 23. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2009.
 "Bring Them Up In the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Robert L. Plummer, 47. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.
 Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother, 18.
We all seek validation. There's no one who is immune to this desire. Validation comes from many sources. Unfortunately, many of the sources we often go to for such validation as a man, a woman or even as a good Christian person, are flawed. Because we often seek validation from sources other than the only One who can offer a pure and holy version, we find ourselves performing or behaving in certain ways just to hear "Good job" with the hopes that this form of validation will suffice.
But it never does.
As human beings, both men and women, we have been created in the image of God. This is foundational in understanding the power of identity and validation. Our story starts with God, is about God and ends with God.
"Identity is not something that falls on us out of the sky. For better or for worse, identity is bestowed. We are who we are in relation to others." - John Eldredge & Brent Curtis
We (humanity) have struggled with our identity and proper validation since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when the liar offered this thought to Eve and Adam - "The God you love. . .he's holding out on you. You cannot trust him."
That lie has permeated our existence ever since.
The enemy isn't creative, and therefore, uses the very same strategies over and over and over again. Solomon was right in so many levels when he declared there to be "nothing new under the sun."
When Bruce Jenner revealed his transformation into Caitlyn a couple of weeks ago, the response was incredible. He is not the first man to declare himself dissatisfied with his gender. He is not the first man to make changes needed to be identified as a woman. He is just the one to do so in this age of the "perfect storm" of gender identification, celebrity worship, sexual "tolerance" and political activism.
Now, in a story that many would say is unrelated, Rachel Dolezal, the President of the NAACP's Spokane chapter has apparently been "outed" as white. The issue is not so much that Dolezal is white, but that she has presented and promoted herself as a mixed-race, black woman for years.
While Jenner's life details have been made available for the public since the 1970s, Dolezal has been known only to a small demographic. No more. Her story is now the lead story on most news and entertainment networks. (I smell a Lifetime movie in the making.)
It Is The Same Story
So, how are Jenner and Dolezal connected? They likely have never met. The Huffington Post and other media outlets are doing all they can to ensure these two stories are not connected. Their personal stories are vastly different. . . yet, the same.
Their stories are stories of identity. They are stories of validation sought.
How do I know? I know because this is my story, too. No, I'm not a black man living as a white man. Neither am I a woman living as a man (or a man desiring to live like a woman.) I, like these two have sought validation for years. I seek identity.
Just like you do.
Jasmine Holmes recently wrote of this on a blog post for Desiring God She stated:
The gospel shows us not only the root of our dissatisfaction with our place in the world — the sin that separates us from our Father (Isaiah 59:2) — but also the cure for that bitter root (1 Corinthians 15:57). We were created in God’s image, for his glory (Genesis 1:26). That image includes male and female, as well as the beautiful display of diversity that we see in all four corners of the world.
It's an old revival cliche, but it's true. We all have a "God-shaped void within us that can only be filled by Him." Another way to say it is this, "We all seek to hear our Father say 'Well done. You matter to me. I love you.'" The Father has stated this so clearly through the gospel. Jesus is God's validation to us. Yet, we often cannot, or do not, hear that declaration.
The Same Old Lies
The enemy is strategic. He's still throwing the lies toward humanity, "You can't trust God. He's holding out on you." When we believe that, we cannot hear the truth. And we seek to fill the gaps with whatever we can.
We seek validation.
We seek identity.
Since God alone can offer these, when we miss him, we create our own identity. We become satisfied with weak validation. We become posers.
When Mitzi Miller, former editor for Jet & Ebony magazines, was interviewed about the Dolezal story for National Journal, she made this profound statement:
It’s ridiculous and ironic. Again, I go back to the suspicion that something was really messed up in her life and she had to find a way to cope. Adopting another identity and creating a life out of it was her answer.
As you know, most news stories remain front-and-center for about two days, then everyone just goes about their lives, until the next story comes up to create headlines and social media trends. Yet, those who are part of the story will not be able to just turn the page. How this one ends is yet to be determined, but Miller honed in on the real issue, I believe.
It is not about race.
It is not about gender.
It is about identity.
It is about missing the validation from the author of the story.
As the Father spoke of the Son at his baptism - "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," so we long to hear that validation as children of God. We can through Christ. It is not easy to hear that still, small voice in the midst of the screaming culture, but it is there.
God's validation of us is not the same as his affirmation of our actions. Sin grieves the heart of God and we carry that burden, but thanks be to God that we have been redeemed through Christ and no longer are identified by our sin. (Now, that previous statement is for children of God - those who have surrendered to Him and now have the right to call him Father.) So many Christians struggle with this. Even in the world of church and religion, we often pose - seeking validation from pastors, other Christians or church members or maybe denominational leaders.
We must be careful to remain focused. Christianity is not simply behavior modification. It is heart transformation.
So, when you hear these stories of confused people seeking to "find themselves" or attempting to change things in their lives to enable them to live as the person their mind identifies them as, pray for them and remember. . .we have all been there. The poser lives, but doesn't have to.
That's the beauty of the gospel - life in exchange for death. Authentic identity in exchange for the masquerade. Validation in exchange for accusation.
Identity is bestowed. Our true identity is bestowed by the Father. . .and he does not make mistakes.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 (ESV)
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV)
Years ago I led our church through a doctrinal study over the distinctives that define us as Baptists. In an age where denominational labels tend to offend or in some cases are avoided at all cost, there is value in knowing and understanding the doctrinal pinnings of one's church. This study led us through our doctrinal statement, known as The Baptist Faith & Message (2000.)
Article I of our statement of faith reveals our understanding of the inspiration and value of the Bible. The article expresses this as follows:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
As we dug into this teaching on the value of Scripture, it becomes confusing to some, especially in the English-speaking world, as to which version of the Bible should be used. There are some who believe the only valid version to be read, studied and preached is the Authorized King James Version. While I am not one to discount the value of the tried and true KJV, primarily because I grew up, like many of you, reading and memorizing passages from this version. It's a beautiful version and yet, it is often hard to follow due to the changing vocabulary and different meanings of English words from the 1600s to now. As an American with friends from Great Britain, I find that phrases we use have vastly different meanings to them, and vice versa.
Some have asked why there are so many modern English translations. The simple answer relates to money. Each publishing house tends to own the rights to its own modern translation. Therefore, since Biblica owns the rights to the very popular New International Version, it stands to reason that Broadman & Holman would rather own it's own version for publication, as would Crossway and other publishing houses.
Yet, it is more than a business decision. Sometimes, there are decisions made by translators that seem less connected to history or the oldest documentation and more to swaying with the cultural shifts of the day.
A movement has continued to grow that seeks to delete all masculine references to God throughout Scripture. On the surface, this may seem to be insignificant.
"It's more inclusive," some would say.
"It's less offensive to those who have difficult relationships with men, especially their earthly fathers," is declared by others.
So, in this age where gender and sexuality are the unavoidable subjects through the media and the amoral revolution continues to occur, I find myself going back to a previous teaching on the value of Scripture and the use of non-gender neutral versions. (The original post from January 2011 may be read here.)
A number of churches are also intentionally moving away from using gender-specific terms. This was printed in a church's bulletin recently and ended up on Twitter. I wish I could say I am surprised, but this is little more than the next step down a slippery slope.
Why Does Gender in the Bible Matter?
It is my assertion and belief that gender matters in life and therefore within the Bible. Regarding Bible translations, it matters at a deeper level than most realize.
In an article posted a number of years ago by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress and The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (full posting here,) the writer touches on some of the most common translation questions and issues:
In Greek the word aner usually has the sense of husband or man (male human being).3 Until recently, English translations included the male semantic component in translation. But the new gender-inclusive translations show some changes.
In Acts 1:21 Peter discusses the replacement of Judas: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men (aner) who have been with us…" (New International Version [NIV] 1984). But in the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI 1996) and in the New Living Translation (NLT 1996) "men" becomes "one of those" (NIVI) or "someone else" (NLT). The change is theologically significant because it no longer conveys in English the Greek evidence that Peter did not think that a woman could be an apostle. In Acts 20:30 Paul warns the elders at Ephesus about false teachers: "Even from your own number men (aner) will arise and distort the truth…" (NIV). Indirectly Paul indicates that the elders were all men. This theologically significant detail drops out in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1993), NIVI, and NLT.
The common thread in the verses above is that they all involved situations where males were examples of larger principles. This is not to denigrate females, for both male and female are made in God's image, unique and special. It was, however, descriptive of the role of the men within the early church.
Another translation issue revolves around the Hebrew word 'ish.
Consider the translation of 'ish. It almost always means "man." It can be used in idiomatic constructions with the sense "each one" (e.g., 1 Chron. 16:3, Job 42:11). The main problem is that gender-inclusive translations eliminate male marking in other passages where they have no lexicographical warrant.
Consider Psalm 1:1, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers" (NIV). NRSV, NIVI, and NLT change it to read, "Blessed are those who…," or a similar phrasing. The change from singular to plural produces a description that is "less specific…, less easy to visualize." Moreover, with the singular, the reader tends to picture a single man standing against a multitude of wicked people, sinners, and mockers.
After reading Psalm 1, sensitive readers know that it offers the "man" as a representative, an ideal, for men and women. The principle applies to many. But the starting point is the picture of one, and that one is male. The semantic component as well as grammatical gender is present for the original readers.
The gender-inclusive translations simply eliminate this semantic component. They contain a formulation that expresses the general principle of equity, and that is part of the point. But they drop one aspect of the meaning, by not expressing the subtle interplay between a male representative on the one hand, and a general principle applying to both men and women on the other.
The writer speaks of the more traditional usage of the word man to describe the entirety of the human race. This, now is not considered politically correct or tolerant.
The biggest issue in removing gender from Scripture is the elimination of the word he.
How do we treat generic "he" in English? Matthew 16:24-26 says, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (NIV)
The verses contain several occurrences of generic "he," referring back to "anyone." Some people find this usage distasteful, so the NIVI eliminates it: "Those who would come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for me will find them. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?" Singulars are converted to plurals, third person "he" becomes second person "you."
Meaning Is Warped
The arguments for eliminating gender is both explicit and implicit. There's no neutral ground in this movement for neutrality. The most dangerous issue is when the meaning of Scripture is warped from poor translators. Though some declare that "all translation is interpretation" the end result is the justification of already held beliefs when seeking affirmation. In other words, it fuels the fire of those who are set on their beliefs, and then seeking to find a verse or passage that affirms their already held beliefs. If the verse is taken out of context, so be it.We've seen this done numerous times. If the verse is mistranslated, all the better. Why? Because the truth in these cases is not that Truth is sought, but justification. This is a dangerous slide.
John 14:23 in the NIV reads, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." The NRSV reads, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."
The NRSV substitutes plurals for the generic singulars found in Greek and in the NIV. But this results in an unintended ambiguity in the product. The last clause, "make our home with them," has a plurality of people, "them," combined with a single dwelling place, "our home." Conceivably, it might mean that the Father and the Son make a home with each person. But it might also mean that the Father and the Son make a single home with the plurality of people together. That is, they come and dwell with the church corporately. This latter interpretation is closer to the surface or more "obvious" than the first, since it responds to the difference between the singular "our home" and the plural "them." Such a thought of corporate dwelling is genuinely biblical (see 1 Cor. 3:10-15, Eph. 2:22). But it is not the thought found in the Greek text of John 14:23. Both the Greek and the NIV picture the Father and the Son making a dwelling with each person, not with the church corporately.
Gender neutral Bibles weaken the Word. They represent poor scholarship at a minimum and the conformation to cultural sensitivities. Do the masculine pronouns really matter? I believe they do, but not because men are better than women or that we are insensitive to the plight of those who have had terrible experiences with men in their lives. They matter because they signify the deconstruction of God's Word which will inevitably end for some with a Bible that looks like Swiss cheese, with holes throughout and passages that only align with our previously understood realities.
The introduction of mainstream gender-neutral Bibles was little more than a foreshadowing of removing gender tags within the church (for some.) The cultural influence within the church is immense and while "neutral" may be the stated goal, "neutered" is the end result of a church that abandons the truth of God's Word.
RELATED: Interview with Dr. Mohler Regarding the Need for Christian Counter-Culture
Listing of Gender-Neutral English Bible Translations (Not a complete listing)
Last week, our church family gathered to grieve the loss of one of our own. Nick, a member of our family since the mid 1980s along with his wife and children, died suddenly on Memorial Day while in Tennessee spending the holiday weekend with his son, Jon.
I have known Nick and his wife Diana, daughter Shanna and son Jon since my first day serving on staff at First Orange Park over twenty-one years ago. It's funny, but during the interview process prior to my calling here, I was sent a photo directory of the church (dated, as all of them are) and looked through the photos of people I did not yet know, but knew I would soon become my family. For some reason, I stopped at Nick's family photo. I knew, somehow, that this family, and especially their son Jon, who would be in my youth ministry, would become dear friends.
Jon Garrett & Nick Garrett (L-R)
When I met Jon, he was in junior high school. He was a typical junior boy and by his own admission, was a challenge. Yet, there has always been a kinship between him and me. There were times we would play basketball together (he never beat me. . .at least that's how I remember it) and talk deeply about matters of life. There were moments he made me angry and I know there was a season he wasn't too fond of me either. We look back now and see how God used all those moments to deepen a friendship and mentorship that has lasted years.
He's an adult now. I'm a little older, too (a lot grey-er) and hopefully wiser.
When I hear of Nick's passing, I reached out to Jon immediately. I knew he was hurting and while I offered words of comfort and clarity, I knew he just needed to know others cared and that he would get through this. The same is true for his sister Shanna and of course, his mother and Nick's widow, Diana.
Each person grieves differently. Relationships are unique and yet, each is beautiful and vital.
After meeting with the family in planning the memorial service for Nick, Jon shared that he would like the opportunity to address the people in attendance. This is something that occurs often at services like this, but as always, I asked Jon to write it out, for his own sake and to provide a "safety net" in case he found he could not speak. In that case, I could read his words for him.
At the appropriate time, I invited Jon to the stage to share. It is hard to convey the emotion and even the moments of humor in written form, but I provide Jon's tribute to and words about his father here. His vulnerability and honesty are incredible.
We come here today to celebrate the life of Nick Lee Garrett. I want to thank the family, co-workers, friends, and church family for coming today on behalf of my mom and sister. Nick Garrett was a husband, a grandfather, a brother, uncle, colleague, friend, brother-in-Christ, and to my sister and I, he was dad. I want to talk to you a little bit today about my Dad, whom I called "Pop" or "Pops." I want to share some memories with you and talk with you a little bit about who he was for me.
My Dad was born on March 23, 1951 to Elzie & Alice Garrett. He was the second to youngest of five children. I met my Dad almost 36 years ago when I entered the world. Like many little boys, I looked to my dad as a hero figure. I have very few memories of Kentucky, as we moved to Florida when I was five, but I do remember the church we attended. My dad was the sound man and I remember him making me sit in the sound booth with him and during a Sunday night service he let me watch "Empire Strikes Back" on the TV in the sound booth because it kept me quiet. I remember walking around with a smile on my face as people in the church called me "Little Nick" because I was frequently with my dad. A little boy looks up to his father in the role of hero. He is a knight with a shining coat of armor ready to battle the dragons to keep you safe.
We moved to Orange Park when I was five. So much of my childhood is like a blur to me. I have memories of my Dad taking me to work with him on days when I didn’t have school or had a break from school. I remember getting up early in the morning and riding to Lane Avenue and helping my dad load his truck when he delivered uniforms. I don’t know how much help I was, as I usually was found asleep on the rugs that would soon be on the floors of banks, and other businesses around Jacksonville. I remember that these companies would put their old dirty uniforms in a bin and dad and I would go through the pockets of the uniforms before we loaded them up in laundry bags and sometimes he would find money. It’s funny because I can remember sometimes seeing my dad find money and put in back in the pocket and throw it over into my pile. He would yell “Make sure you check those pockets” and then when I would find the money he would make a big stink about it like he should’ve checked it and how he worked hard and I didn’t. I would offer the money to him but he would tell me he didn’t want my money but then he would make me buy lunch.
I could tell you how on one of those work day adventures my dad saved my life. My dad’s truck was very similar to a UPS truck. It only had one seat and no A/C so I used to ride on front on the tire well and hold on to a pole that came down from the ceiling. We rode with the door open to get more air flowing. One day we were driving and a car pulled directly in front of us. My dad slammed on the brakes and I went flying forward. I will never forget it. Everything slowed down. I remember seeing the dashboard coming towards me and I remember seeing my dad's eyes. I hit the dashboard, splitting my head open, and started rolling out of the truck to the asphalt. I remember seeing the road coming towards my face and seeing the front bumper of the car cruising down the right lane and then I felt the strong hand of my Dad pulling me back into the truck. He caught me. If he hadn’t, I imagine I would not be here to tell you this story. He fought the dragon and his armor held strong that day.
He allowed me to play sports like baseball and basketball. He allowed me to know the joys of being a Boy Scout and volunteered to help with my Scout Troop. He raised me in church and made sure that God’s Word was something that I was exposed to from the beginning.
As I moved into my teenage years, rebellion built in me. I began to see that my dad's armor had holes in it. Flaws. His weight became an embarrassment to me. As a teenager you know more than your parent, it seems. I focused on the flaws in my dad's armor and that focus remained for years. Even throughout that time, which looking back had to be painful for him, my dad tried to be there for me. I can remember him sneaking in the back of the youth building to watch me play basketball on Wednesday nights after our service. I remember him making sure I was able to go to summer camps (when I wasn’t in Summer School.) He worked a lot, sometimes working two jobs. In my teenage years it became very apparent that my family didn’t have the money that other kids had. Their name brand gear and cars pointed that out, and I resented that and grew envious of others.
I will never forget the day that I came back to Florida to collect my things as I was moving to Tennessee. My dad decided he would go with me to help me move. We were going to split driving but I slept practically the whole way. We get to Tennessee and arrive at my newly acquired townhouse. I remember my dad helping me move things in and we ordered Papa John's Pizza. I was trying to get my new TV to work and it seemed to be broken. I pressed the power button on the remote…nothing. I made sure it was plugged in. I pressed the power button on the TV…nothing. I was so frustrated. My dad starts laughing and says, “Flip the light switch, genius.” Yeah, it was a powered outlet. He thought that was so funny. Then, because all of my dishes came from a thrift store, he loaded up my dishwasher, and proceeded to flood the bottom floor of my townhouse. I said "Have you ever used a dishwasher, genius?" We had a great laugh together.
Throughout my adult years I only got to see my dad about two or three times a year. He saw me become a father and he was an awesome grandpa. He and my mom gave my daughter her first bedroom suit. He was so excited to surprise her with it. He was an awesome grandpa to her and my nephew James. Always loving and giving. It was during this time for me, as a husband and father that I discovered that my armor was flawed as well. It began a process of discovery that continued until Memorial Day of this year.
See, my Dad tried so hard, especially in the last couple of years, to be there for me. As I went through a very difficult time in my life my dad let me know he loved me, was praying for me, that God loved me, and that he was there if I needed him. He signed up for Facebook just to be able to follow the lives of his children and would often message me. I will never forget the day he called and talked with me at work in April of this year and listened to me vent about a situation I was experiencing. He told me he was proud of me for the way I handled it and he really listened to me. After we get off the phone I messaged him to tell him thank you and he messaged back 3 words that I will always have. “I love you.” That was huge for my dad, but had become more frequent in the last couple of years.
Our last weekend together was great. He was so excited to spend time with me and my daughter. He rented a house in the mountains, my favorite place, that had a movie theater in the basement. He did that just for me and was so excited. His original plan was to keep it secret but my dad was never really good at keeping things a secret when he was excited. It was a great weekend. We watched several movies together down there. He made me breakfast every morning. He was always thinking about how to serve us and give to us. He liked to see us happy. And hugging him, telling him thank you and I appreciate what you did, and I love you was the last time I would talk with him….in this life.
See I have another memory of my dad. A memory as a teenager when my dad and I went for a walk around the block. It was the memory of a question that I asked my dad. “Dad, are you a Christian.” His answer, “Yes. I am.” I remember asking him how he knew and he shared his affirmation that with me.
I spoke about my dad’s armor. I shared with you the path of seeing him as a perfect hero, and then noticing his armor had flaws. It’s in those flaws where we often lose vision. But as I grew older and saw the flaws in my own armor, and as I drove back to the mountains knowing that my Dad had left this earth, God gave me a few things.
My armor has flaws. And if you are a dad, your armor has flaws. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
My dad never gave up the fight. He knew what commitment and covenant was. He was married to my mom for 44 years. He showed me loyalty, commitment, hard work, generosity. He was the type of guy who gave to children and worked on holidays so people with kids wouldn’t have to work. He did the best he could with what he knew and he fought the fight.
I know my dad was proud of me. I know my dad loved me. I know my dad knew I loved him. I am blessed to not have to live with regrets.
When my dad left this earth, he stepped into glory, and he heard “Well done my good and faithful servant” and he finally received his perfect suit of armor.
God bless you.
The father blesses the son. It's his role. This father blessed his son and as is evidenced in this tribute, a legacy of faith, clarity and love has been left.
Jon's words evoked emotion in me and in many others during this service. You see, many in the audience have known Jon for decades. He is greatly loved as part of our family here at First. Yet, as he revealed so honestly in his words, he stepped into rebellion as a young man. Now, still on his journey of faith, it is clear that God has redeemed him and that God used his father, Nick, as a model for him. Jon is blessed and is a blessing. Nick did enter the presence of the Father and I too believe he heard, "Well done."
I'm so proud of Jon, not just for the tribute he shared, but for the man he has become. I know his father, Nick was as well. I believe his Heavenly Father is too.
And this is why Solomon said that it's good to go to funerals every now and then. . .
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2 (ESV)
Last night marked the culmination of our young men's initiative called "REAL Manhood." Each Wednesday at two local junior high schools, male mentors who affirm our Statement of Faith, meet before school for a time of teaching, training and mentoring.
REAL Manhood is the mentoring initiative of Battle Ready Men, designed to lead young boys into an understanding of true, authentic, "real" biblical manhood. The journey is not complete in just a year, but as we meet regularly, we are able to reveal God's truth regarding the masculine journey. In an age and culture where gender differences are pushed to the back burner, totally ignored and most recently determined to be man-made and changeable, we "fight the good fight" for the hearts of these young men.
Over fifty junior high boys were decked out in tuxedos, complete with royal blue ties for the Lakeside Gators and green ties for the Green Cove Springs Cougars. Our ceremony took place at The Club Continental in Orange Park. Parents and family members squeezed into the room to celebrate the "knighting" of these boys as "REAL Men" and the beginning of their journey into authentic manhood.
The word REAL is a reminder of what a godly, biblical, authentic man is. He is a man who. . .
Expects the greater reward
This was our ninth knighting ceremony. The group has grown over the years. Founded by Principal John Green, there now are hundreds of alumni in our community and beyond.
The ceremony is unique. Junior high boys stand uncomfortably in tuxedos. Fathers and mentors recite words of affirmation and blessing. Family and friends record the ceremony and take photos. First year graduates are "knighted" with a sword symbolizing the Word of God and the journey that lies ahead. Then, a very special part of the ceremony occurs.
Two years ago we wrestled with what to do with the second year participants (Prior to that time, only 8th graders could participate. Our junior high schools are only 7th and 8th grades.) After many hours of prayer and discussion, it became clear that the most powerful moment in such a celebration is when a boy's father (or other designated male influence - grandfather, uncle, older brother, coach, pastor, mentor, etc.) presents a gift to the young man and speaks words of blessing upon him. We did not want to rob these men of this special role.
This moment has become the highlight for me.
The second-year participants select their presenter. In most cases, it's their father. In some cases, it's another man who stands in the gap when there is no dad or he's unavailable.
The blessing is public, in that it takes place before the crowd. The words of blessing are private - just between the two.
It is at this moment time seems to stand still. In a crowded room, these two men are alone with God and the blessing is bestowed. I'm sure some of the men aren't sure wha to say. In truth, most men were never blessed by their own fathers, so this is new for them. The awkwardness melts as words of "You have what it takes, son" and like phrases pour out upon the young man.
You see it in Genesis 27:30–38, where Isaac is blessing his son, and Jacob steals Esau's blessing and his birthright. Four times in those eight verses, Esau begs for his father's blessing, but it's never forthcoming. The Scripture says Esau always hated Jacob for that. The emphasis is more on the blessing than it is on the birthright.
The blessing always involves a hug and a kiss. Not the kiss of abuse, but the kiss of blessing—there's a vast difference. You can't force yourself on your child, but you can hug them and get close to them physically to a certain degree without embarrassing them or turning them off.
I found my kids love to be hugged and kissed. I grab my little girl by her ears and look into her eyes and say, "I love you, I bless you, I think you're absolutely terrific." That's easy with her because she's little and dainty. But I've got two boys, 280 and 290 pounds. One played pro ball, and both played college ball. They're 6'6", bench press 500 pounds, and are bigger than I am, but I grabbed that eldest son of mine recently and said, "I love, I bless you, I think you're terrific, and I'm so glad you're mine." His shoulders began to shake and his eyes filled with tears and he said, "Dad, I really needed that."
It's got to be said out loud. It's got to be stated. It's not like the lawyer that's getting a divorce and the judge says, "How often did you tell your wife you loved her?" and he replies, "I told her the day I married her and then never told her differently."
The blessing is also unconditional and continuous. If it's conditional, it's not love; it's a negotiation. I was in a prison in Texas recently where they've got 300 boys ages 10 to 15. These boys have committed every crime you can imagine. I asked the warden, "How many of these boys got a visit from their father in the past year?"
He said, "One, and he only stayed 15 minutes, got into a fight with his son, and stomped out mad." They're not fathers, because fathers hang with their kids no matter what. I know a lot of fathers that disown their kids because they go to prison. But it's got to be something that is continuous and unconditional in order to be a real blessing, in order to be real love.
Glass's ministry is in the prisons and he encounters many, many young men seeking the father blessing, and they do not even recognize what they're missing.
A kid who is searching desperately for a blessing will put himself in all sorts of contortions in order to get it. You see this in gangs. Kids get into gangs because they want to be accepted by a family. Most kids that get into gangs have no father relationship. So, as a result, they go into the gang, because the gang promises them that they're going to be part of a family. "I've got your back, and I'm going to watch you all the way, and I'm with you no matter what." They have these little teardrop tattoos. Have you seen them on a kid's face? Those little tattooed teardrops stand for some heinous crime they committed in order to get into the gang—the initiation fee. If I have to kill someone to get into the gang, I'll do it, because I need to feel that I'm part of a family. And only a father can make a child feel that way. A mother, by herself, has a hard time ever doing that. All those guys on death row love their mothers. It's their fathers they've got the problem with.
There is power in the father blessing. We saw this last night.
Yet, there are some young men with no father in their story. The Bible is clear that God is the Father to the fatherless and for these young men who have this gap in their story, God, in his providence and grace brings along real men to stand in the gap. It is in this story the mentor, teacher, pastor, coach or maybe another male relative can bring the blessing.
You Have What It Takes
The message to these young men is clear - "You have what it takes." Why is that so important? Because the world and the Enemy will shout at them for the remainder of their lives that they offer nothing and do not have what it takes. It's the continual barrage on the heart of men. Therefore, these young men, these REAL men, need to hear this and know this regularly.
This is Just the Beginning
The years to come for these young men are bright with promise and potential. Parents and loved ones have high hopes and pour into them with love and understanding. Our focus as leadership of REAL Manhood is to partner with these families and provide spiritual insight and spiritual truth that is needed for the journey.
I was moved when I received a note from one of my young men that featured a quote and a personal message. The quote was. . .
A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believe it can be obtained." - Shawn Hitchcock
The personal message was a thank you for being a part in his journey toward manhood.
It's not an easy journey, but I'm continually reminded of this truth. . .
"It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." - Frederick Douglass
Last night, my wife and I previewed the new Kendrick Brothers' film "War Room." The Kendricks are the men who brought "Flywheel", "Facing the Giants", "Fireproof" and "Courageous" to theaters and have found great success in placing Gospel-centric stories on film in an engaging and challenging way.
They also have discovered how to make Christ-centered movies that I'm not embarrassed to invite non-Christians to view. The production quality and the acting has increased with each film.
I have been seeing teasers and the trailer for "War Room" for weeks and, to be honest, I was not drawn to this story initially as I was to the previous three films. Maybe it is due to the fact that there were no firetrucks, police cars, guns, or even football games presented in the story. Yes, that's a stereotypical male response, but this is my blog, so I figured I'd be honest.
The "Pastors' Preview" was held in Jacksonville on Tuesday and the theater was full. Each of us received our "gift bag" with promotional items and a survey card for the distributors.
Trailers of two other faith-based films were shown. These look really good as well ("Woodlawn" coming in October 2015 & "Risen" coming in January 2016). Then, the new film then began.
Images of the Vietnam War filled the screen. It appears the partnership with Sony and Tri-Star provides some quality footage for the filmmakers. Narrated by Miss Clara initially (a major character who leads by example as a true "prayer warrior") we see the story of family, joy and heartache revealed. The "War Room" motif is connected to the room where Miss Clara's deceased husband served during the war in planning next steps against a powerful enemy.
Flash forward to present day and Miss Clara is a senior adult seeking to sell her home so that she can move in with her son. Welcome newcomer to film, but not to the Christian audience viewing (especially the women) Priscilla Shirer. Shirer plays the main character in this film. She is a real estate agent in a troubled marriage. However, this is different than the marriage story presented in "Fireproof." Kudos to the Kendricks for touching on a powerful subject, but not just rehashing the same story but with an African-American couple rather than Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea.
The main characters' troubles leave me and every other pastor in the room thinking "Yep, I know a couple just like that." It's not stereotypical type-casting. It is more a revelation of the real world and real battles that our friends, family and church members face.
Don't Worry - No Spoilers Here
I am not going to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it. However, I do wish to say that as the story unfolded, I was moved. I know it's just a movie, but God works through story and often a story played out on the screen allows for some very hard truths to be revealed in one's heart. This is true for me, at least. In the area of prayer and forgiveness, I was confronted with conviction, not by the Kendricks, but by God. It's amazing how he uses story.
This film is focused on prayer. That is no secret. That's the "War Room" that Miss Clara has in her old home. A closet where she goes to pray and do battle. It's a literal interpretation of the Scripture.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6 (ESV)
Miss Clara affirms that a physical closet is not the point, but a quiet, intentional place for prayer is.
The story in the film unfolds. God does amazing things. I'm glad that not all problems are solved, but the sense of the sovereignty of God and the love and grace he bestows upon his children is clear.
The message is obvious - PRAYER WORKS!
Prayer for family members, loved ones, circumstances, situations, relationships, etc. are all valid. I'm reminded of the reality God has shared with me over the past year. . .
Prayer is our active weapon against the enemy. As long as it remains our passive response when we feel all else has failed, we will continue to feel and live defeated. . .and we don't have to.
I left the theater thinking how amazing God is in bringing the message of prayer through this film at a time when I have been discerning His voice regarding the church and our often weak, passive prayer strategies. Also, the personal conviction that my prayers have been less than adequate for a man seeking the face of God and leading others to be "battle ready."
One of my favorite scenes is the one embedded below. . .
As a church, we will likely purchase all the tickets for our local theater during opening weekend again, as we have done with "Courageous" and other films like "October Baby." Yet, this outing is less a night of entertainment and more of a resounding call to pray like we mean it.
Prayer is not a manipulation of God to get Him to do what we desire. Rather, it is our humble admission of His sovereignty over all and our invitation into intimacy with the Father.
Final Words About the Film
Just some closing, random thoughts. . .
Priscilla Shirer is excellent in this role. This was her first film role and she did wonderfully. Very convincing (though now all her friends will be talking about her feet - explained in the movie.)
T.C. Stallings is perfectly cast. The man is strong and it's good to see him reformed from his time as a gangsta in "Courageous." He can act, but man can he Double-Dutch jump rope, too.
The other members of the cast did well. At no time was there a cringe-worthy moment of poor acting.
Beth Moore is in this film, not for long, but she's in this. With her and Priscilla, the Kendricks have just locked in to a target audience of every woman in Southern Baptist churches who have done a LifeWay Bible Study.
When you see the film, check out the digital clock in the bedroom. It's no accident that the time on the screen is 7:14. (Check 2 Chronicles to know what I mean.)
There are a number of Easter Eggs throughout the film that hearken back to the previous four Kendrick films. Actors you recognize reappear. The car dealership from "Flywheel" is once again referenced, subtly. Oh, and check out the name of the Paramedic Company on Michael Jr.'s EMT shirt.
Plan to view this on opening weekend. Don't wait for the DVD or for Netflix to have it.
We'll have tickets available at First Baptist Church of Orange Park, if you live in the Jacksonville area.
Recently, NBC Nightly News has run a series of "Stories" highlighting the challenges facing parents raising transgendered children. NBC's National Correspondent Kate Snow is getting much attention online and through social media due to this series of stories.
This is a subject that I have found to be growing in our cultural dialogue, but often absent regarding the church - unless the church is the subject of such dialogue and couched in negativity.
Is our church facing the challenge of ministering to those who self-identify as transgendered? Not overtly, but I am sure that over the years there have likely been attenders and maybe even members who have struggled internally with their gender identification.
Before you get too far into this post (if you haven't already left) I will be upfront and honest about my beliefs regarding transgenderism. I DO NOT believe it is a viable lifestyle and therefore, I believe that God intentionally creates man and woman, in His image, for His glory, and on purpose. Therefore, my posting is slanted, based on my convictions. While some label this as "hating" I see it as choosing to believe the fullness of God's Word and trust Him as Creator and Father. This ultimately leads me to believe that gender is bestowed by God and in His plan, His image-bearers are created either with a masculine heart or feminine heart and those always match the physical gender assigned by Him.
As for those who are born into a classification now known as "intersex" I still believe that God is sovereign over gender and while I won't get into that discussion here, it should not be tabled by the church just due to discomfort.
I have watched the wonderfully produced short by NBC News featuring "Jacob." It is clear in the video that this is a family who deeply loves their child. The child is beautiful and winsome. This family seems to be an atypical American, middle-class family.
Some background. . .
Jacob is transgendered. This child is only five years old (maybe closer to six now) and the story of his identity has gone viral thanks to a letter written by his mother Mimi. The letter was published online and by The Boston Globe. It's a heart-felt, well-written, love-laced letter from a mother to her child. Comments online are overwhelmingly positive. Any stance against Mimi and her husband Joe's desire to transition their daughter (born as Mia) into their son (Jacob) based on their understanding of his desires, nature and gender is met with anger. I've embedded the video from NBC News below, without edit, so you may watch their story as they chose to present it.
As I watch this, I must say that the combination of moving music with the winsome words of the the parents works. This is a moving video and yet, there are some troubling things that come to my mind regarding the story.
"He's just like the funnest (sic) kid and a great buddy to have around. He was also born in a girl's body." Joe makes this statement. I do not question his love for his child and his authenticity here. I do, however, question the now common and culturally acceptable phraseology of "born in a girl's body" or the opposite if the genders are switched. This affirmation seems to be based on love (and again, I do not question Joe's love for his child) but in viewing this through a biblical worldview, this statement is actually an accusation to God that He made a mistake. God (and I believe He is real and does exist) must have messed up in the creation of this child. He meant to add a part or remove a part, but forgot? So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27 (ESV) is a verse speaking of the initial creation of humanity. The veracity of this passage leads to understanding that creation is intentional and gender assignment is as well.
"Jacob is transgender." It's a statement of affirmation and declaration. Mom and dad have come to this conclusion after struggling with understanding their child. LGBT counseling affirms that this is viable and to not accept it and even affirm it is paramount to child abuse. Therefore, the declaration is made. I wonder what happens if/when Mia (Jacob) hits puberty and begins to discover that she is actually female, is not ashamed of it and even begins to want to be identified as such. I would hope her parents would affirm this as well. However, if this were to happen, "Jacob" could never be used as an example of transgender identity being natural and assigned at birth.
The changing of clothes 10-12 times a day is interesting, but does it really lead to a revelation of transgenderism? I understand the justification of describing this as a way for Mia to hide or discover her identity. Yet, I'm not certain that the clothes changing habit is gender specific or even identifiable by gender roles. This perhaps is just a child being a child?
Throughout the story there are indicators that Mia was making decisions that impacted everyone - the sweater being worn for six months, almost daily, the desire to have a "boy haircut," the ability as a two year old to express gender desires fully. As I watch, a thought continues to come to mind, and I don't desire this to sound mean-spirited, but when did two-year-olds get to make decisions that impact entire families? I'm not advocating the ignoring of one's children's desires or voice, but there are things that simply parents should decide and lead.
The parenting role is divinely given. It is powerful. Parents will fail (Lord knows I have many times) but we are accountable. Parents are to be the lead disciplers, discipliners, guides, nurturers and . . . parents. There are roles within the family and these must be filled. A family meeting where the members vote and majority rules may look good in a sit-com, but in real life, it leads to disaster. While I do not doubt that Mia's parents are great people and seek the very best for their child, I struggle with understanding this area of their strategy. Yes, I know, I'll be lambasted for "judging" someone else's parenting style. This is dangerous in that I don't feel I do this to the best of my ability anyway as a dad. Nevertheless, it was a question that continued to come to mind.
"What do you think about that boy? Do you think you might like to be like that? The question asked of Mia (Jacob) after viewing the story of another transgendered child from California, if asked this way, seems very leading. It almost seems as if the parents want their daughter to be transgendered. Maybe they do? Maybe they do not, but are settling for what they believe to be true?
More questions arise as the story of transgendered men and women become more commonplace. The story of children struggling with the issue also trend regularly now. I grieve the loss along with parents and communities when young people see no way out of the internal struggle apart from taking their own lives. The suicide of Joshua (Leelah) Alcorn ripped apart a family and community and his story was exploited (a term used by the NY Post) by many wishing to use it for political or agenda gain.
How Will The Church Respond?
The church is left with questions.These are not questions regarding the sin or the veracity of scripture. . .at least they shouldn't be. The questions are regarding the way the church engages (without affirming sin) those who struggle with same sex attraction and gender identity. When a family attends the church with a transgendered son/daughter, the church must be prepared to respond. From my perspective, the only correct response is to love this family if they will allow it, but not to affirm the gender switching by allowing little biological boys who dress like girls to be in girls' classes and vice versa. Love is affirming that God is sovereign and like the little magnet that used to hang on my mother's refrigerator stated, "God don't make no junk." Therefore, his gender assignment (based on physical body parts and chromosomes) is good and perfect and not a mistake. This will lead to loving parents struggling to be the very best they can be for their children.
The LGBT issues are not going away and the church for years has allowed others to frame the conversation. Cultural affirmation does not change the Gospel's truth.
We must stand narrowly on the Gospel so that we may impact the world broadly for the sake of His Kingdom.
With all the buzz about Bruce Jenner apparently making a public transformation from male to female, bloggers, celebrities, religious leaders and celebrity watchers are all sharing their opinions. Since the popular trend is to celebrate Bruce's decision, to declare it as anything but "beautiful" will get you categorized as a hater and an LGBT basher.
However, in the very public battle over Bruce's journey, there are most likely family members and close friends who have no doubt given statements of support and love, but may be hurting deeply on the inside because of Bruce's situation. Of course, that's only an opinion because I don't know Bruce or his family members, but based on stories of families and friends I do know that are similar, but much less public, hurt tends to be a very common emotional response.
A good friend of mine sent me the following story last week. I asked his permission to share it and with changed names, for obvious reasons, he said that I could. So, take a moment, read this story and see if you can understand, at any level, the hurt that is felt by those closest to the stories.
I woke up like any normal Saturday morning in my home and my kids and I went for a jog. The air was crisp and cool, typical for February in Florida, and the sunrise was glorious. We praised the Lord for beauty, for health, for life, and we prayed for those who do not know His limitless love. We returned home and did a devotional together and this was the message:
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. - Proverbs 4:18-23
We talked about the importance of guarding one’s heart, no matter the cost, and ended with Paul’s words to young Timothy,
Do not participate in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. - 1 Timothy 5:22
It was a good morning.
My wife then asked me if I could go to our dog’s veterinarian and pick up some flea medicine. I entered the vet clinic and was immediately greeted by a former neighbor I had not seen in years. He was chatting with the two vet techs and another patient holding her cat while standing next to his very large pit bull mix. As I am very used to these “divine appointments” I immediately shook his hand and asked about his wife and two daughters, proud that I remembered he had a wife and two daughters. He excitedly began to tell me how the oldest was going to PA school, finishing up at a local university and then planning to enroll in medical school. He then said he had just shown the other patient something on his phone and wanted to show me. He stated something about the young lady and then something about a “Josh” so I assumed it was going to be a picture of his oldest daughter and her boyfriend/fiancé. He held up his phone and my eyes first went to a young lady I recognized who had grown up into a beautiful young woman. I remembered her as quiet, but bright and confident, and the picture showed that. Then my stomach dropped.
Next to the young woman in the picture was another face that looked vaguely familiar. My neighbor said, “Remember Amber? Now she is Josh. She is transgender.”
The room suddenly became completely quiet—even the animals. There I stood with my bright titanium cross hanging boldly on my chest and three women looking at me waiting for my reaction. I will not lie. I was stunned. I remembered the little girl riding her bike on our cul-de-sac playing with my little ones and eating snacks from my refrigerator. I suddenly saw my own young, beautiful daughter, all girl, but not afraid to get dirty. I remembered how my son and I always discuss how in every one of our favorite “guy movies” there is a beauty to fight for and how that makes all the pain of the journey and battle worth it. I looked at this man’s face and then I felt it. It was not disgust, not anger, not judgment. It was hurt. His eyes told the truth. He was trying so hard to be the proud father. What parent doesn’t pull out the pictures when someone asks about the children? However, underneath the mask I could see the truth. He hurt. So I hurt.
“In the beginning…male and female He created them. And God blessed them.”
Enter the Father of Lies and the question that has haunted humanity ever since, “Did God really say…?” I could see the “deep darkness” in my neighbor’s eyes—and in the eyes of the young woman who now called herself a man. A woman whose identity had been stolen by a master criminal who knows exactly how to manipulate and lie to achieve his purpose. You see, our enemy wants to strike at the core of who we are.
Every young man wants to know, “Do I have what it takes?” Our enemy shouts, “NO! You throw like a girl you wimp!”
Every young woman wants to know, “Am I beautiful?” Our enemy shouts, NO! You are ugly and worthless.” The enemy has taken something so foundational, so basic—the doctor proudly states, “It’s a boy or it’s a girl”—and manipulated it into something twisted and we now believe the lie. “Did God really say…?”
As a follower of Jesus Christ I would like to say it became one of those “woman at the well” moments and I handled this moment as my Lord would. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. But I am thankful because My Father opened His eyes and let me see what He sees when He looks upon our world. I genuinely hurt for this man and his family. I do not know his story or the story of his daughter, having moved away long ago, but I do know that our Lord and Savior is still sovereign and still in the business of redeeming a lost people. He is writing the Greatest Story Ever Told and He is calling my neighbor and his family to Himself. The cross is open for this young woman. Jesus died on it for her.
I shook his hand one more time and he opened up, “It was hard and shocking when I first found out, but now I guess I just take it one day at a time.” I told him goodbye and I got in my car and my son and I did the only thing we could do for this family under attack. We lifted them up in prayer to the only One who can save. “Jesus, thank you for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Your grace and mercy are awesome. Today is the day of salvation and we pray for our lost friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. We pray for this father, his wife, and his daughters. We pray you do whatever it takes to redeem them. It hurts, Jesus. Thank you for opening my eyes and letting me see what you see. You bought us with such a high price so that all may be saved. I confess I do not always handle these kinds of situations with Your grace and mercy, but this time you softened my heart and I remember that I hurt you the same with my sin. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Help me to love this lost world. I love you, Dad.”